San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner was fined $21,000 for his end zone hit on Chris Givens on Thursday. It was the kind of hit that wasn’t penalized in years past, and certainly wasn’t fined. But the NFL has placed an emphasis on protecting defenseless receivers, and Givens was up in the air. So, Whitner gets fined. It’s the new NFL, get used to it.
But instead of changing his game, Whitner has decided to change his name.
It’s official…The W is being removed from my last name from Whitner to Hitner…GM
— TWHITNER (@DonteWhitner) October 2, 2013
He’s also promoting a hashtag and a new line of t-shirts:
— TWHITNER (@DonteWhitner) October 1, 2013
The NFL is trying to take head shots out of the game. They don’t want 190-lb receivers lying motionless on the turf, especially since vicious hits on airborne receivers discourage teams from taking chances through the air. The NFL wants teams to throw, throw, throw, in case that hasn’t been made clear over the last 20 years.
My concern is that this new emphasis on protecting the “defenseless” will completely change the game. Why wouldn’t teams have their quarterbacks send high passes down the middle of the field as often as possible? Forcing receivers to jump for passes in traffic used to be the equivalent of sending the poor guys on suicide missions; now, it’s an easy way to move the ball downfield either via a long pass play (where the defensive back has to wait for the receiver to hit the ground before wrapping him up) or penalty.
By the way, the hit on Ahmad Bradshaw (that Whitner was penalized for but not fined) wasn’t just legal … based on what the referees told us before the season, Bradshaw should’ve been penalized. If a running back lowers his head and purposely makes contact with the crown of his helmet outside the tackle box, it’s supposed to be a 15-yarder. But because this new bit of legislation tries to govern a player’s natural instinct to duck when they brace for contact, no one — offensive players, defensive players, even the guys wearing stripes — agrees with the rule.
If Whitner is serious about changing his name, he probably won’t accomplish much besides drawing more attention to his physical style of play and/or spurring a bunch of jokes about Adolf. It’s hard not to feel for the guy, though. Whitner isn’t like Dashon Goldson, who’s made a career out of leading with the crown of his helmet and spearing guys in piles after plays are over.
Whitner/Hitner is fighting for his career. If the new rules shorten his NFL tenure he’ll still be fine, since there’s no doubt whatsoever that he’ll be an outstanding analyst for whatever television network is smart enough to hire him. But when it comes to playing strong safety, it’s unfortunate that due to legal concerns and officials fearing reprisal from the league if they swallow their whistles, Whitner is getting punished for being too good at hitting guys in ways that we long thought would always be legal.